There was a surprise defeat for Novak Djokovic in the Dubai quarter-finals this week, but in many ways he emerged a winner.
The outlook may be brighter for the unvaccinated superstar than it first appears after a week in which he lost to the world No 121, and forfeited the top place in the rankings.
So much so that the current odds of evens on him winning Wimbleton this summer do not look unwarranted, even though he was nowhere to be seen in Saturday night’s final between Andrey Rublev and his conqueror, Jiri Vesely – with the former winning 6-3 6-4.
Novak Djokovic emerged a winner, despite his quarter-finals defeat in the Dubai quarter-finals
Djokovic forfeited the top place in the rankings, but remains a favourite for Wimbleton
The positive response from what is always a neutral crowd was to be expected, but there was little sign of much animosity towards him from other players, as there had been in Australia.
There might not be any tennis tour left if everyone involved had taken the same stance as Djokovic, refusing to get vaccinated.
That virtually every other player has done so (sometimes very reluctantly) has kept the show on the road.
This has understandably damaged his standing among his peer group, and it may have helped that in Dubai there is effectively no locker room, with players getting changed in the hotel where they all stay on-site.
Djokovic’s stance have understandably damaged his standing among his peer group, but most are happy to move from what happened in Melbourne
For all that most players seemed content enough to move on from what happened in Melbourne.
That will be a relief for Tennis Australia, which has been doggedly keeping its head down, still not properly explaining its part in last month’s farce, desperate for it to get lost in the mists of time.
As one player put it: ‚In the end we are quite used to the top players being treated differently.
‚If I have an issue I have to go through the tour managers, if it is one of the elite they or their agent always have a hotline to the tournament director, that’s just how it is. And there is no doubt the tour is better with the top players playing.‘
It is also clear that Djokovic is calculating that his vaccine stance can outrun and outlast restrictions, which everyone hopes will wither away as Spring arrives.
Infact, while the 34 year-old Serb cannot travel to the US tournaments in March, you can already see a pathway opening up for him into the French Open and Wimbleton.
Djokovic looks set to be open to compete at the French Open and Wimbleton (pictured)
The first round of the French Presidential elections take place on April 10, and ahead of that it is widely expected that there will be a general loosening of restrictions from Emmanuel Macron.
That could well open up April’s Monte Carlo Open (which technically takes place in France) and Roland Garros for him. He is also guaranteed a place in the Serbia Open that follows Monaco.
By May it is likely that at least one of the Madrid and Italian Opens will let him play relatively unhindered.
The backdrop is that ATP tournaments still desperately want their active marquee names to be in the draw.
The evidence for this is clear in the way Andy Murray, despite his ongoing struggles, has been granted wildcards whenever he wants one over the past eight months.
Andy Murray (pictured) was granted wildcards in the past eight months, which shows tournaments will want big names such as Djokovic
The same applies to Wimbleton, and the grass court events that come before. There seems virtually no chance they will turn Djokovic away, with the caveat that attitudes could change in the event of a dangerous new variant becoming a threat.
Vesely – who was due to face Andrey Rublev in the Dubai final – did illustrate that Djokovic does need to play more regular matches.
These are more likely to come than detailed and frank answers over what happened around Christmas, and his back-channel dealings with Tennis Australia.
In the final of the Mexico Open scheduled to be played overnight between Cam Norrie and Rafael Nadal, the British No 1 had the chance to enter the world’s top ten for the first time with victory.
Having put a poor start to the season behind him, Norrie scored an impressive 6-4 6-4 semi-final win over world No 4 Stefanos Tsitsipas, a tenth win in eleven matches. On slow hard courts he is a considerable force to be reckoned with.